Does evidence from Krapina, Croatia refutes ‘bow wave’ theory?
The popular view of the Neanderthals as dimwits has been in trouble for years, as evidence for Neanderthal symbolic behaviour has continued to accumulate. Up until now, however, it is not been possible to unequivocally rule out the influence of modern humans, who reached Europe around 46,000 years ago. The Châtelperronian culture for example, long put forward as evidence of Neanderthal behavioural modernity, has now been shown not to have begun until after the arrival of modern humans. It is assumed that the Neanderthals simply borrowed the trappings of modernity from their new neighbours.
In other regions such as Spain and Italy, the evidence for Neanderthal behavioural modernity has been attributed to what Sir Paul Mellars has described as a ‘bow wave effect’, i.e. long-distance interactions between Neanderthals and modern humans occurring several millennia before the latter become visible in the archaeological record.
This view is now seriously challenged by a new study of eight white-tailed eagle talons that were found at the Neanderthal site of Krapina, Croatia over a century ago. Researchers found 21 cut marks on the talons, and there were areas of high polish consistent with ‘use wear’ as the talons rubbed against each other. The implication is that they were mounted in a necklace or bracelet – clear evidence of symbolic behaviour. Furthermore, it was concluded that the talons come from at least three eagles, suggesting that considerable effort had gone into obtaining them. The white-tailed eagle is fairly rare and it is an aggressive apex predator, far from easy to catch or trap.
Associated faunal remains suggested that Krapina dates to the warm Eemian interglacial period. A direct date of 130,000 years old was obtained in 1995 – which means that it predates any possible influence from modern humans by more than 80,000 years.
Radovčić, D., Sršen, A., Radovčić, J. & Frayer, D., 2015. Evidence for Neandertal Jewelry: Modified White-Tailed Eagle Claws at Krapina. PLoS One, 11 March.